by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Irecently returned from Japan. I have the business cards to prove it.

There are business cards in my pants pockets and my shirt pockets. Last night I found one in my hair. This is because Japanese people, upon meeting in a business setting, immediately bow and present their card. And you are supposed to present yours.

Unless, of course, you don’t have one. Like me. In which case you stand there holding their cards and smiling stupidly, like the neighbor who has no candy for the trick-or-treaters.

“I am honored to meet you,” my Japanese associates would say.

Translator: “He is honored to meet you.”

“I am honored to meet him,” I’d say.

Translator: “He is honored to meet you.”

“No, it is my honor that he is honored to meet me,” the associate would say.

Translator: “He says it is his honor that you are honored . . .”

You can see why the Japanese allow a lot of time for an interview, say, a day and a half. I was in Japan for the release of my book, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” The good news was people wanted to talk to me. The bad news was my name. In Japan, they call me “Mitchi-san.” Ugh. It sounds like a kitchen cleanser.
(“Stains won’t come out? Try Mitchi-san! Cleans and deodorizes!”)

Anyhow, I learned a lot about the Japanese. For one thing, they are the best hosts. They escort you. They pamper you. Honest to goodness, if they could get into your shoes and walk for you, they would.

Also, they can make a videotape faster than I can swallow a piece of sushi. Every morning, one of my Japanese editors, Mr. Tanaka, would smile and hand me a tape.

“Mr. McGwire,” he’d say, “hit No. 61.”

Now that’s hospitality.

It’s always greener . . .

Of course, when you go on a book tour in Japan, you expect to work. The Japanese are big on work. We were not there two hours before the first interview, which was actually a pre-interview for an interview a few days later. This, I learned, was common. So is handing you a sheet of the questions to be asked. A couple of places even handed me the answers.

“I am honored to meet you.”

“She says she is honored to meet you.”

“And I am honored to meet her.”

“He says he is honored to — “

Did I mention the tea? There is always tea. As soon as you sit down to do an interview, someone arrives with tea. Doesn’t matter where you are. TV station. Radio station. Pluto. Someone rolls in the tea. Green tea. And I don’t like green tea. I don’t like any green beverage. I can’t think of a green beverage, except maybe wheat grass, and when I watch people sip wheat grass, I think of cows on a date.

Anyhow, before long, you are awash in green tea, business cards, lists of questions — and photographers. I don’t want to feed a stereotype here, but I believe everyone in Japan is Ansel Adams. I heard more click-whir-click-whir than Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, this is done very politely. Everything is “Very kind, Mitchi-san,”
“thank you, Mitchi-san.” (Don’t mention it. Does your kitchen need cleansing?)

Also, things are by the rules in Japan. You show up on time. You finish on time. At one point, we visited a health club, and at the front desk was a list of rules, which included “No antisocial behavior or tattoos that would offend others.”


Let’s do lunch

We made marvelous friends in Japan, including my editors, Mr. Tanaka, Mrs. Yamamoto and a publicist we called Guchi. One day, they agreed to slip me out for lunch in between the 97 interviews scheduled that day.

“Japanese power lunch!” they said.

Power lunch?

This means racing to a noodle shop, picking your noodle choice from a machine and presenting your ticket at a counter. Then, you shovel the noodles into your mouth without actually swallowing. Then you go back to work. Power lunch.

Of course, fast noodles were more palatable than some of the food. The Japanese have odd combinations. At one place, I was served a platter that consisted of — and I’m not kidding here — shrimp, tofu, quail’s egg, pork, squash noodles, buttered rice, smoked salmon and green paste.

No thanks, I’m driving.

At one point, I did speak to a group of sportswriters. Out of curiosity, I asked what would happen if a star Japanese athlete were found in a hotel room with two exotic dancers and a tableful of drugs. They laughed until they were red-faced.

One said, “It would be end of life!”

So I guess Michael Irvin won’t be coming over.

But I will. I had a great time, and I’d go back to Japan in a minute. Before we left, our hosts gave us gifts. They even cried at the airport as we said good-bye.

I cried, too. I felt a heaviness in my chest. Maybe it was the business cards.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!